A top-flight power play boosted the Washington Capitals throughout the regular season. It’s apparent that it can have the same effect when it’s successful in the playoffs as well.
After failing to convert all but one of its first 12 chances against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the unit broke through on Saturday, scoring twice to fuel Washington’s 3-1 victory in Game 5 of the teams’ second-round series.
Alex Ovechkin scored 4:04 into the game and T.J. Oshie scored four minutes into the second period, giving the Capitals all they needed to stave off elimination and push the best-of-seven series back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for Game 6.
“We hit a couple posts and had some good looks where we missed the net [in previous games], and it was good for the confidence for the power play,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We know they’re going to pressure. That’s part of their M.O., and we were able to do some things against them and then getting the power play goals, it gives us a little bit of confidence in that.”
The Capitals surged to three consecutive victories to open the first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on the strength of their power play, converting eight of their first 17 opportunities — including a team-record five power-play goals in a Game 3 win.
Entering the second-round series against the Penguins, though, the unit had been stagnant, save Marcus Johansson’s rebound strike in the third period of Game 2. That was to be expected, with the Penguins going 17-for-19 against the New York Rangers in the first round, but the overall ineffectivity, at times, was surprising.
In Game 4 on Wednesday, the Capitals had a pair of power-play opportunities, but spent much of both of them chasing the puck in their own end and trying to set up their offense. Trotz maintained that the unit had, on the whole, generated plenty of scoring chances against the Penguins, but that for one reason or another, they had been foiled.
“They did a good job shutting us down,” Oshie said. “They bring a lot of pressure, so as long as we stay ahead of our pressure, we’re going to get chances and we’re going to get opportunities.”
Ovechkin’s goal, his fifth of the postseason, was drawn up to perfection. Nicklas Backstrom sent the puck from the right circle to Ovechkin in the left, and the wide-open one-timer beat Penguins goaltender Matt Murray high and far.
Oshie’s goal, meanwhile, was exactly the kind of goal the Capitals had tried to generate. Ovechkin’s attempt from the left circle was stopped by Murray, but the rebound dangled in the slot and Oshie feebly flipped it toward the net.
“We couldn’t seem to win the first faceoff and that’s when you get that first clear,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s when our penalty kill has an opportunity to be at its best, and we couldn’t seem to get that first faceoff win — and as a result, they got some zone time.”
The Capitals’ inability with the man advantaged was hidden, in part, by an effective penalty kill — one that also cracked on Saturday in allowing a put-back goal by Chris Kunitz, its first blemish in 15 tries.
It’s clear, though, that if Washington has hopes of returning home for a decisive Game 7, its knack for scoring on the power play is going to be critical in getting it there.
“You keep telling guys to do the same thing, that you’re doing the right things, and all you want is to get rewarded,” Trotz said. “I thought it was good that they did.”